I note a recent piece by Blake Morrison on bibliotherapy, in which he makes a number of passing comments on the impact of the Holocaust on the idea that great art could make ‘better people’ (concentration camp guards being fans of Goethe and so on.) I note the similarity with John Carey’s recent What Good are the Arts ? (see a Guardian review and Observer article), but wonder whether there isn’t a subtler story to be written about this.
I realise that Morrison is compressing here as part of the background to his main argument. I do wonder, though, whether this supposed causal link between knowledge of this aspect of the Holocaust and wider attitudes to art has not come about by the gradual metamorphosis of a convenient illustration (“Not all art lovers are good people – see these examples”) into an active cause (“Knowledge of the concentration camps made (or should have made) such a belief impossible”.) I suspect that just such an understanding of the power of art persisted, in the full knowledge of these crimes. We need a fuller historical account of understandings of the nature of art, in which to place the impact of the Holocaust.